First shipment of COVID-19 vaccine arrives at St. Charles in Bend

With lots of smiles and applause, St. Charles in Bend received its first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday morning.

A FedEx truck with only one piece of cargo – a single, temperature-controlled box of 975 does – arrived just before 10:30 a.m., the hospital said in a release.

“This is a historic moment,” said Joe Sluka, president and CEO of St. Charles Heath System. “In the same year a global pandemic landed in the United States, the scientific community delivered a vaccine. It’s a remarkable achievement that gives us hope as we continue to battle this virus and try to return our world to some version of normal.”

Debra Carlson, an inventory coordinator for the hospital’s inpatient pharmacy, donned safety goggles and a special pair of thick gloves while taking the box and placing them in an ultra-cold temperature freezer capable of storing them at -70 degrees C.

“The eagle has landed,” she said into her phone upon taking delivery, calling it “such a symbol of hope and next step forward for us.”

In a news conference later Thursday, Chief Pharmacy Officer Michael Powell said everyone in the pharmacy stopped what they were doing to watch the process unfold and erupted in applause.

He called it “the beginning of the end of working through this pandemic.” 

Dr. Cynthia Maree, who is overseeing the vaccine at the hospital, said the excitement Thursday was a little like Christmas morning.

The vaccines will remain in the freezer until Monday morning when the pharmacy team will begin dethawing and diluting individual doses in preparation for administering them to the first group of caregivers at noon.

It is expected all 975 doses will be dispersed by the end of Wednesday, the hospital said.

Maree reiterated Thursday that while many of the hospital’s caregivers and staff are clamoring to be at the front of the line for the vaccine, others still aren’t sure and want more information.

The goal over the next few weeks is to educate everyone on the vaccine’s safety and benefits, Maree said.

In the meantime, St. Charles caregivers who are eligible for vaccination are receiving notifications via text and email with information about when they are scheduled to receive their first dose.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart, so only after receiving a second dose three weeks out will they be considered fully vaccinated.

The vaccine arrives on a day when St. Charles Bend has 50 inpatients with COVID-19, four of whom are in the ICU and two of whom are on a ventilator.

The health system continues to postpone some elective surgeries to free up the staff and beds needed to care for the highest-need patients.

“This year has been a difficult year for all of us, and the fight is not over yet,” said Dr. Jeff Absalon, St. Charles’ chief physician executive. “The stress on our health system continues to be very real. On Tuesday, every one of our ICU beds were full. While today is certainly one to be celebrated, we must acknowledge the difficult road still ahead of us and continue to be vigilant in halting the spread of the virus.”

He said he expects local numbers to continue to rise as post-Thanksgiving cases come to light.



St. Charles to get first shipment of 975 COVID vaccines Thursday


St. Charles will get its first shipment of the Pfizer COVID vaccine on Thursday and will begin administering it to staff next week.

The first shipment includes 975 doses and is earmarked for health care workers, St. Charles officials said in a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Starting Monday, the vaccine to be given to caregivers with the most potential for direct exposure. They’ll need a second dose in 21 days.

Officials say the goal is to have vaccinations available for all caregivers who want it within two months.

Dr. Cynthia Maree is leading the vaccination efforts at St. Charles and said an internal survey of its 4,500 staff members showed about half “definitely” planned to get the vaccine; some are still unsure.

Among those, more than 90% of the 800-member medical staff (doctors, nurse practitioners, etc.) indicated they planned to get the vaccine.

Maree said the hospital is trying to educate those on the fence, by assuring them the vaccine isn’t a new technology and that it’s very safe, despite the fast track to approval.

She said between 10-15% of the staff are not interested in the vaccine – and the hospital cannot require anyone to get it.

“We’re going to try to vaccinate as many people as we can,” Maree said. “Then we can begin to look at the policies.”

All of the vaccines will be administered at St. Charles in Bend, Marlee said, due to logistical and safety concerns.

Additional shipments heading this way in the coming weeks will be distributed to long-term care facility residents and emergency responders.

St. Charles officials say they don’t expect the vaccine to be available to the general public until late spring or early summer 2021.

In an email to the public earlier Tuesday morning, President and CEO Joe Sluka said information about the vaccine and plans for distribution “is evolving rapidly,” but gave some answers for common questions.

  • St. Charles is set to receive its first shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17
  • The Oregon Health Authority has outlined a phased approach to vaccination, meaning health care workers, long-term care facility residents and emergency responders will be first on the list
  • The state is working with commercial pharmacies to distribute the vaccine to long-term care facilities, which means St. Charles is not responsible for this portion of the vaccine distribution
  • We are working on plans to administer the vaccine to St. Charles caregivers based on the Oregon Health Authority’s guidance for prioritization – this means those staff members who are critical for maintaining hospital capacity to serve the greatest number of patients and who have the most direct exposure to COVID-19 will be given the vaccine first
  • St. Charles caregivers are not required to take the vaccine, but we are encouraging them to do so
  • All of our staff will be required to continue masking and distancing until we achieve a high rate of vaccination throughout the general public
  • We do not yet know when we will have enough vaccine supply in Central Oregon to begin vaccinating high-risk patients, but anticipate it could be several months

“The approval of the Pfizer vaccine – and the likely approval of the Moderna vaccine this week – is such an exciting step in our fight against COVID-19 and our quest to return to a more normal way of life,” Sluka said. “But, we are not out of the woods yet. We continue to see high daily positive case counts in our three counties and our numbers of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also remains high.”

On Tuesday the hospital reported 32 COVID patients; four are in the ICU and three are on a ventilator.

Chief Physician Executive Jeff Absalon said as of Tuesday afternoon, the hospital’s ICU was full.

▶️ Hundreds of surgeries delayed as COVID hospitalizations spike at St. Charles


COVID-19 cases keep rising in Deschutes County and St. Charles hospital in Bend has limited beds.

“We are filling up and we are in the process of reducing surgeries in an effort to create capacity to take care of patients that are sick,” said St. Charles Chief Physician Executive, Dr. Jeff Absalon.

There are 29 patients currently hospitalized with COVID-19. 

It’s the highest number they’ve had so far, roughly twice as many as the previous week.

“We’ve seen the numbers in our area increase significantly in the last several weeks,” Absalon said. “It takes a few weeks after we see the community numbers go up for us to see the numbers go up in the hospital and that is exactly what has happened here.”

Deschutes County last week reported 459 new COVID cases – nearly 200 more than the week before.

Lisa Goodman, a spokeswoman for St. Charles said 20 of the hospital’s 30 ICU beds were full.

And across the region’s four hospital campuses, 82% of the beds were occupied as of Monday.

Hundreds of elective surgeries are being delayed, that’s 25 to 40% of all surgeries performed at the hospital.

“Elective surgeries include things such as heart surgery, including such things as cancer surgery. So there are a lot of very important surgeries included in that bucket,” Absalon said.

He adds, everyone is feeling the pressure and stress on the health system at this time.

“We just don’t know if this is the peak or not,” he said. “What we do know is, the measures that have been used previously are effective. If people wear a mask, if they keep their physical distance, if they stay home when they are ill if they wash their hands. We know we can bend the curve and that is exactly what needs to happen.”

Absalon also added, there is a risk the hospital reaches capacity, given the variety of other patients typically admitted this time of year.

Deschutes, JeffCo to see continued restrictions once freeze ends; restaurants can reopen

More than 20 Oregon counties, including Deschutes and Jefferson, will be considered at “extreme risk” of COVID spread and will see continued business and activity restrictions once the statewide two-week freeze expires next week.

Gov. Kate Brown and state health officials announced the new framework on Wednesday, putting different health and safety measures in place for counties based on COVID case trends in those areas.

The idea is to eliminate a one-size-fits-all approach to combating the spread of the virus while giving some leeway to businesses to reopen next month.

Under the “extreme risk” category, gyms and other indoor sports are still prohibited, but restaurants and bars would be allowed to reopen to outdoor dining at 50% capacity.

State epidemiologist Dean Sidelinger said outdoor dining does not mean eating in a place enclosed by cloth or plastic walls, as some restaurants had erected as the weather turns cold and rainy in Oregon.

He said a roof is allowed, but three sides should be open.

Grocery and other retail stores must operate at 50% capacity, churches at 25% capacity (or 100 total people, whichever is smaller) and offices must require employees to work from home if possible.

“My hope is that Oregonians in these counties take this news seriously and commit to hunkering down for the next several weeks,” Brown said in a news conference.

Here are the full guidelines:

  • Social and at-home gatherings with people from outside your household will be limited to a maximum of six people, with a recommended limit of two households.
  • Restaurants, bars, and other eating and drinking establishments will be limited to a maximum of 50 people for outdoor dining only, with only six people per table. Take-out is strongly encouraged.
  • Indoor recreation, fitness, and entertainment establishments, including gyms, will remain closed, however, outdoor recreation, fitness, and entertainment activities, including outdoor gym activities, will be allowed, with a maximum limit of 50 people outdoors.=
  • Retail stores, grocery stores, pharmacies, and indoor and outdoor shopping centers and malls will be limited to a maximum of 50% of capacity, with curbside pick-up encouraged.
  • Faith institutions, funeral homes, mortuaries, and cemeteries will be limited to a maximum of 25% of capacity or 100 people indoors (whichever is smaller), or 150 people outdoors.
  • Office workplaces will be required to utilize remote work to the maximum extent possible, with public-facing offices closed to the public.
  • Personal services businesses will be allowed to continue to operate with health and safety measures in place.
  • Long-term care facilities can allow limited outdoor visitation, following established health and safety protocols.

Counties that are successful in reducing their COVID-19 risk levels in the coming weeks and months will be able to incrementally move to lower risk levels, Brown said.

The revamped restrictions to combat the unprecedented rate of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations take effect when the current two-week “freeze” expires on Dec. 3.

Currently, only take-out restaurant service is allowed. The restaurant industry pushed hard against the restrictions as several eateries closed for good and others were at risk of doing so.

Asked if she was bending to industry pressure, Brown said: “I’m in the business, frankly, of saving lives and also preserving livelihoods.”

“The framework is intended to establish sustainable protection measures for Oregonians in counties with rapid spread of COVID-19, while balancing the economic needs of families and businesses in the absence of a federal aid package,” Brown said.

Deschutes County has seen a significant spike in COVID cases in the last several weeks.

This week alone the county has reported more than 160 new cases. Currently, the county has more than 1,100 active cases.

“It’s important to note that there is no Zero Risk category,” Brown said. “Until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, health and safety precautions will remain in place so that schools, businesses, and communities can reopen, and stay open.”

School metrics, Brown said, remain unchanged.

There’s good news on the vaccine front as OHA Director Patrick Allen said he expects Oregon to get about 30,000 doses which will first go to frontline health care workers and those living in congregant settings in mid to late December.

County Risk Categories as of November 23, 2020
Lower Risk: (5)
Moderate Risk (4)
High Risk (6)
Hood River
Extreme Risk (21)

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.

‘Only likely to go up’: OHA reports single day record for COVID cases and deaths

The Oregon Health Authority on Thursday reported the largest daily number of COVID-19 cases and deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

COVID-19 has claimed 20 more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 808, the OHA reported. The state surpassed 800 deaths less than three weeks after marking its 700 deaths.

The OHA also reported 1,225 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 60,873.

“I have heard frequently from those who have refused to believe this pandemic is serious if we aren’t seeing hospitalizations and deaths,” said OHA Director Patrick Allen. “Those hospitalizations and deaths are here and are only likely to go up. Please take this seriously, and do what you can to slow the spread: wash your hands, wear a mask, and limit the number of people you come in close contact with.”

The new cases are in the following counties: Baker (4), Benton (16), Clackamas (121), Clatsop (2), Columbia (14), Coos (8), Crook (6), Curry (6), Deschutes (31), Douglas (21), Grant (3), Harney (5), Hood River (8), Jackson (89), Jefferson (10), Josephine (13), Klamath (20), Lake (5), Lane (130), Lincoln (1), Linn (11), Malheur (21), Marion (84), Morrow (1), Multnomah (376), Polk (20), Umatilla (20), Union (8), Wasco (8), Washington (127), and Yamhill (36).

According to the OHA, 95% of the total cases reported are later confirmed COVID positive.

Deschutes County has reported 1,781 cases and 14 deaths; 1,292 people have recovered as of Wednesday, the latest data available.

Crook County has reported 180 cases and six deaths.

Jefferson County has reported 738 cases and 11 deaths.

St. Charles reported Thursday it had 11 COVID patients; three are in the ICU and none are on a ventilator.

The hospital has 30 total ICU beds in Bend and Redmond.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across Oregon increased to 414 Thursday, eight more than yesterday, marking a new record for the pandemic.

There are 96 COVID-19 patients in Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, two fewer than yesterday.

More information about hospital capacity can be found here.


OHA reports 13 COVID deaths; 935 new cases

COVID-19 has claimed 13 more lives in Oregon, raising the state’s death toll to 778, the Oregon Health Authority reported Tuesday.

The OHA reported 935 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state total to 58,570.

The new cases are in the following counties: Baker (4), Benton (15), Clackamas (85), Clatsop (5), Columbia (7), Coos (5), Curry (4), Deschutes (30), Douglas (37), Harney (5), Hood River (4), Jackson (60), Jefferson (28), Josephine (2), Klamath (25), Lake (4), Lane (45), Lincoln (2), Linn (16), Malheur (7), Marion (151), Morrow (1), Multnomah (208), Polk (21), Tillamook (3), Umatilla (41), Union (6), Wallowa (1), Wasco (5), Washington (88), and Yamhill (20).

According to the OHA, 95% of the total cases reported are later confirmed COVID positive.

Deschutes County has reported 1,711 cases and 14 deaths; 1,257 people have recovered as of Monday, the latest data available.

Crook County has reported 168 cases and five deaths.

Jefferson County has reported 713 cases and 11 deaths.

St. Charles reported Tuesday it had 14 COVID patients; four are in the ICU and one is on a ventilator.

▶️ Deschutes Co. Health awaits federal guidance on COVID vaccine


The Trump administration released documents Wednesday outlining a strategy to deliver COVID 19 vaccines to the American people.

The distribution strategy proposes to deliver a safe and effective vaccine beginning in January.

According to Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar, Operation Warp Speed has spent months laying the groundwork to distribute a COVID 19 vaccine as soon as one meets the Food & Drug Administration’s requirements.

But those plans have yet to trickle down to the local level.

The Deschutes County Health Department has yet to receive guidelines for how the earliest doses of COVID 19 vaccine are to be distributed and to whom.

“We don’t know that at this time,” said Morgan Emerson, Deschutes County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator. “We’ll work closely with our partner agencies and Oregon Health Authority on how to roll that out.”

However, the national plan call for initial doses to be prioritized based on models developed by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

“I don’t know whether that will be a local decision or a state decision,” Emerson said. “At the end of the day, we’ll work closely with Oregon Health Authority on determining vaccine information when we have that available.”

According to HHS, detailed planning is ongoing to ensure rapid distribution of a vaccine as soon as one is approved and the CDC recommends who should receive initial doses.

Once these decisions are made, the McKesson Corporation, which distributed a vaccine during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, will ship COVID 19 vaccinations to administration sites with logistical support from the Department of Defense.

“We are constantly thinking about preparedness locally whether that’s for flu season, fire season or things like measles or COVID,” Emerson said. “Right now we are working on strong partnerships with our local pharmacies and clinics, as well as strengthening our internal staff capacity for vaccines. ”

Operation Warp Speed’s vaccine distribution process calls for the earliest vaccines to go to priority groups; delivery of vaccines beyond brick and mortar facilities; tracking to match supply with demand and traceability to ensure recipients get a second dose.